Capturing the Online High School Education Market

I work in online high school course development. The field is at an historic moment in history: the moment just before an innovative online education company takes over the field and sets the standard for online high school education.

I’ve taken to calling this theoretical education company “the future Amazon of online education,” a phrase that often raises scoffs among people who will listen to me. Many don’t think a single company can dominate online education in the same way that Amazon dominated the book market. And when they say so, usually I just think silently to myself, That’s probably what people thought about the book market before Amazon.

But dominating the online high school education market wouldn’t be that difficult. It would just depend on an intelligently designed content management system. I’m going to describe that content management system to you now.

Note: Nothing in the following features and capabilities is technologically difficult to execute. Do you want a multi-million dollar idea? Here it is. And if you’re seriously putting this plan into action, sign me up.


The beginning of the content management system (CMS) that you need is simple, and nothing beyond what Udemy or other similar sites are doing. The CMS will need to allow people to build their own chunks of content using various online media. And by “people” I mean the public. You don’t need to create your own content. There are millions of die hard teachers out there that already have. They just want somewhere to put it where it will get used.

The CMS will allow people to chunk content into larger and larger pieces until they have entire courses ready to share with the masses. Some basic tagging should be employed, such as the language and the level of accessibility of the content.


If you’re going to dominate the high school education market, you need to incorporate standards into your content. This means the chunks of content must be able to be tagged with objectives that correspond to state and national objectives.

For example, a content creator using your site would tag a chunk of their content as covering Massachusetts state standard 3.2 “Describe the carbon cycle” from the Earth and Space Science learning standards.

Ideally, someone will eventually create a public database with these standards in it (I’m looking at you, Google), but for now, you could start with the most commonly used standards or develop your standards database through your users.

The important thing is that people using your site will know what state standard or standards each chunk of content covers.


The CMS should allow people to create built-in assessment items. These can be pretty simple at first; start with multiple choice, and add more assessment choices as you go.

These assessment items need to store student results, and the assessment items need to be tagged to objectives, so that content creators (and others evaluating that content) will know how successful the content is at covering that objective.

Ultimately this allows you to start evaluating content somewhat scientifically. I use the term “somewhat” because not all assessment items are created equally.

Content Sharing

The CMS should allow people to use other creators’ content in their own instructional content. For example, if I’ve written a science course but my students are not successfully interpreting my presentation of the carbon cycle, I can try using someone else’s carbon cycle content by plugging it into my course.

Ultimately this means that people can come along and create entire courses using the best material out there and without creating anything themselves. High schools across the nation could end up generally agreeing that some teacher’s two page HTML presentation of the carbon cycle is the best one in the nation, and all high school students could learn from that.

This requires, of course, the ability for users to control the visibility of their content (some may want to keep it private) and to label their content with the license of their choosing. Some content you may need to pay for. Other content might be free to use.

Imagine being a science teacher in a small town in Alaska who now has a vastly powerful array of resources to use to teach students, as well as data that backs up the effectiveness of the instruction.

The licenses that allow reuse of content could get tricky, because when you’re putting together a lesson, you don’t want to use content that is going to change unexpectedly before you start class. To defend against this, licenses would be similar to the license for shared Google SketchUp models. For example, you are free to use someone’s shared model in your own SketchUp project, and if the original creator withdraws their model from the shared environment, you can keep using that model in that project for as long as you wish. People who share their models agree to this when they post them in the shared environment.

Essentially, the content would be duplicated when you decide to add it to your content. Your content wouldn’t change when the original content changed. Though you might want to subscribe to alerts on those changes and then decide whether you want to update the content when it does change.

Prerequisite Content Tags

The CMS will need to allow tagging for prerequisite knowledge, such as vocabulary terms or concepts students need to know in order to understand the chunk of content being tagged. This way, you can have small chunks of content that explain advanced concepts, and anyone contemplating using that content will know whether their students will be able to handle it.

Then again, content developers may just go get additional content from someone that covers your prerequisite knowledge. This makes course creation across multiple authors easier because the interdependencies are tagged.


Users will need to select content by evaluating more than the effectiveness of the assessments. And the assessments themselves can be significantly skewed by the author (such as when the instructional content adequately covers the objective but the assessment item is written so poorly that it is not a meaningful assessment).

This means the CMS should have ratings. Users will be able to rate chunks of content for a variety of characteristics, including grammar, how well the content covers the objective, and the quality of the assessment item or items.

This gets tricky when content is modified, because the ratings may only apply to the previous incarnation of the content, but there are a variety of ways to solve that problem, including storing the “archived” data for past content and allowing users to view that or ignore it. A recently edited chunk of content that has no current ratings but many strong positive ratings in past versions is still likely to be good instructional content.


The CMS will need strong search abilities, and not just so that people can find the content they’re looking for (searching by keyword, objective, or state standard are all obvious implementations of the search feature).

The CMS would use its search indexing to suggest content similar to the pages you’re viewing. If you’re looking at one page on the carbon cycle, you’ll see its nearest competitors in links to the right. This makes it easier to choose the best content available for your lesson.

The CMS would also use its search ability to suggest content as you’re writing it. While you’re writing an HTML page on the carbon cycle, links would appear on the right to visible pages of content you may wish to use instead of your own. Those links can be controlled by settings that limit results to your requirements–free to use, non-Flash, a specific level of effectiveness, and written in Mandarin, for example. Think of the time you might save. Whenever someone else has already written something you’re about to write, you’ll know.

Community-Based Improvement

Along with simply sharing your content, you may also grant permission for others to modify it, with or without credit, based on the sharing license you choose. Others will be free to improve on the work or update it as knowledge of the subject develops.

Users who view your content may also make suggestions for updates or corrections. Content will improve and develop in step with subject matter and technological changes. This is not a textbook frozen in time. It’s a living body of knowledge. Wikipedia meets standards-based learning meets Google Course Builder.


These features would help you capture the online high school market, but that’s obviously not the limitation of the project. Middle schools and post-secondary education would benefit from a CMS like this. Corporate training is not out of the question either. All told, this is billions of dollars waiting to be funneled to the team who does it right. Now go. You don’t have much time.

12 thoughts on “Capturing the Online High School Education Market

  • November 2, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    In sum: you are badass! I like it. Of course, this is going nowhere without the proper name. Do you have ideas for that?

  • November 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    So true. I need a name, a name, a name…. Any ideas?

  • November 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Only idea I have is to make up a word like “xerox” or “starbucks” and try to keep it at two syllables.

  • November 27, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Oh, and if the name had six A’s in it, that would be pretty cool.

  • December 5, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Ok, that’s interesting. Named after the fruit one gives to teachers, the founder, and a loose copy of a highly successful computer company all at once?

  • December 6, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    There’s also a reference to triple-A – twice! –but that reference doesn’t make as much sense as the others.

  • October 30, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    What’s amazing to me is that the technology to do all of these things exist now. The problem is that all of these things exist in file formats and style formats that add a lot of human cost to doing the things you describe. Heck, there may even be someone already doing what you describe, but they’re just too obscure to hear about!

  • October 30, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    I know, right? I’m tempted to start the database, in my future ample free time. It might go somewhere or it might not, but I think I could probably import a ton of content in there without too much trouble…. Just have to copy and paste into Excel, and use smarts to make it importable. If I focused on one state, this could even be automated by a macro….

  • November 5, 2013 at 11:51 am

    I would happily help you with this project. Let’s have another weekly video chat after we’ve both moved on to better things.

  • November 5, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Yes! That sounds good. I’ll be in touch about this.

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